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Friday, March 18, 2011

Let Puppets Tell Your Story

O.k., knowing how puppet personalities can take over, let's change this post title to:
Let Puppets HELP Tell Your Story.

Puppets Are People, Too!

LoiS here and trying to return a bit of order: 
Puppets can be so lively and crazier than we might otherwise let ourselves be.  If you want to grab attention, let a puppet carry your story or message.  Just expect, as in the battle of titles above, they will try to take over.

There are so many ways puppets can be used beyond a puppet stage and puppet plays.  Find my earlier article on this, "An Alphabet of Puppets and Storytelling", at my website,  The ideas there are arranged alphabetically for easy browsing.  It also forms part of a puppetry workshop I offer.  While at my website, go to the Specialized Resources page for a few internet puppetry sites I recommend.  Now it’s time to look at specific methods in more depth. 
LoiS with Sheerluck

  • Puppets can become characters in a story.  Examples of this are tales of Anansi, Br’er Rabbit, or Coyote.  The character may be used for a single story or over several stories.  If you repeatedly tell over a period of time different stories using a specific character, it is easy to build up enough stories to create eventually an entire program with that character.

  • Puppets can be the funny character, letting you be the "straight man" often found in comedy acts.  Humor always helps.  If you want learning, research shows humor actually helps people remember more.  There's even a great word for it, Edutainment!  An easy way to do this is by using your puppet for a running gag taking place 3 or more times.  Exaggeration is another comedy method.  Your puppet can be the exaggeration personified or may express the exaggeration physically or verbally for humor.  Another way for your puppet to be funny is let it get things wrong.  An example of this is a puppet incorrectly tells a well-known fairy tale, but you let the audience correct the mistakes.  You may have to ask at first "Is that right?", but they'll soon be calling out the right answers.  Just be sure it all stays friendly and positive.  Even puppets should be treated with respect -- model good treatment of others.  Don't be afraid, when playing to children, to include material more likely to make adults laugh.  Dr. Seuss's work was an example of this kind of writing.  It keeps the adults involved from a grown-up perspective at the same the children enjoy its zany nature.  Physical humor may make the children laugh while adults stay alert for the verbal humor.

  • Get over the idea that you must become a ventriloquist.  If you focus upon your puppet as if it was a real person, your audience will, too.  Your puppet’s movement and voice create its character.  Sometimes a puppet mimes a story while you tell it.  You may also let it “whisper information” for you to relay.  Props can add to the fun of a puppet, too.

LoiS and Buzz about Bees
  • Another option is just using a character for a single special segment.  The Shel Silverstein poem “I’m Being Eaten by a Boa Constrictor” is an example of a single segment worth using as a filler in a program.  An additional hint on that specific poem: wear slacks and not a skirt, unless you want the segment “R” rated!

What word did each of those ideas above include?
Answer: Character.
LoiS and Nina
  • The more you develop the character of your puppet, the stronger it will be a part of what you present.  This can take time to develop.  It's also easiest to test on individual children of the same age as your intended audience.  Possibly when testing, even before you try specific voice and movements, you could ask what the child thinks the puppet's character will be.  Then it's up to you to decide if you will develop that appearance of personality even further.  Possibly you will go with the opposite for humor so a big tough looking puppet acts shy and delicate or the petite young thing sounds like a lumberjack.  Is the baby dragon fierce or does it flop at fire-breathing?  I don't have a photo of my Biblioteca Dragon, but will never forget when he tried to turn Santa into Krisp Kringle!

LoiS with her puppy puppet, Buzz, as a lifeguard.  He provides riddles for her Storytelling Cruise Around the World if the audience is smaller than a gym filled with students.
  • Puppets are great for Fillers, those small transitional parts of a program which bring variety to a program.  A puppet can create audience involvement by selecting children for jokes and riddles.  Puppets can also sing, yes, even if you aren’t a great singer.  Just remember what Kermit sang: It's not easy being green.  Kermit's voice wasn't that of a great singer, but he had . . . CHARACTER!

I also have a puppet that lets me use my own hands for signing.  Here Ivan the Siberian Tiger signs "Friend."

  • When your puppet isn’t part of what you are telling, it can be placed in a position where it sits and listens to you, serving as a role model for your audience.  You could also let it “go to sleep.”  If you don’t want the puppet visible at all times, plan for its entrance and exit.  A large bag can be a perfect spot to let the puppet hide or possibly put it behind a stack of books.  Just be sure the puppet enters and exits as itself.  Don’t destroy its reality.

  • After your program is over, the children may want to meet and touch the puppet.  Timid children should be able to pass, if they don’t want contact. Villains may be hit, so those puppets should be kept away from young listeners or your puppet may become damaged.  The fact that children react emotionally to a puppet just shows how real they can be in conveying your story.

Earlier I mentioned the Specialized Resources page on my website included puppetry links.  One of those links deserves special mention as a resource for using puppets this way. Puppet Hub is a social network for puppeteers.  Its activity level is low enough it won't take a lot of your time, but can be an excellent resource.  I started a group there, Out Front with My Puppet which is specifically for this type of puppetry where you don't stay behind a stage.  The group is a good place to present ideas and ask questions related to those of us not doing our puppetry behind a stage.  There is a varied group there including librarians, counselors, ventriloquists, magicians, clowns, and, of course, storytellers in the Out Front group.  The ventriloquists also have a separate group on Puppet Hub, too, along with other specialized groups for comedy writing, ministry, local groups (YAY DETROIT PUPPETEERS GUILD!), and others.  Puppet Hub also has a resource store in connection with Amazon which can help you locate material you might not even know exists.

Speaking of Detroit Puppeteers Guild, the annual Day of Puppetry is usually the last Saturday in April.  This year I'll bring my puppets and give this as a workshop:
April 30, Detroit, 1-4 p.m.
The Day of Puppetry (includes performance by PuppetArt of the Japanese folktale, "The Crane Maiden" at 2 p.m.) with storyteller, Lois Sprengnether Keel's workshop, "Let Puppets Tell Your Story" at 3 p.m.  $20, children $10 (includes performance and a children's puppet making workshop).  PuppetArt theatre, 25 E. Grand River, INFO: Julia C. or PuppetArt 313-961-7777 and

 You just know my puppets will act up + I'll have more to say than I have room to mention here.  If you're in the area, I'd love to see you there.

The way I do puppets fits a lot of librarians, teachers, naturalists and others who have puppets and think puppet shows are the only way to go, but don't have the time.  YOU know better!

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